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The dated advertising narrative

September 20, 2005

Steve Johnson’s book “Everything Bad is Good for You” is a great analysis of the current state of sophistication in popular culture. It takes a counter-intuitive route, suggesting the media the elite often considers lowbrow, is really just the opposite and is instead complex and sophisticated. Johnson uses examples from video gaming, movies and television to illustrate his point.

Steve’s latest blog post does the same when he describes ABC’s hit show Lost.

“Thirty years ago, of course, no American show would have dared to put twenty recurring characters into a network drama. (Even the socially complex prime-time soaps like Dallas tended to max out at around ten primary characters, while the sitcom’s sweet spot seemed to be at around six: just enough for a nuclear family and the wacky neighbor next door.)”

If one is to follow Johnson’s argument to the television spot, one wonders if it has evolved quite as much as the culture that surrounds it. With advertising professionals and analysts suggesting the only way that advertising can survive is to be more entertaining. They have to mean entertaining in the pop culture sense, not in the “compared with other advertising” sense.

If spots are it to be truly entertaining, advertising needs to look beyond other advertising for inspiration from other narratives, but it needs help. This shouldn’t just be about placing your products in other people’s shows or moving away from advertising all together. There is still nothing more compelling than film. The ad industry has the craft skills to make entertaining and persuasive short-films, not just 30 second spots. For advertsing to remain interesting, it’s going to need more experimentation and surprise. Here, the broadcast networks should help by being as innovative with their media space, as they are with programming.

How many networks out there are there ready to accept a 3-minute spot, that isn’t an infomercial and won’t cost the earth?

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